Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about legacy. I was listening to a podcast recently where the hosts were talking about brilliant scientists and how many in the 16th and 17th centuries (and I’m sure they exist today as well) were consumed with what their legacy would be. As a result they would have huge battles, both public and private, over who came up with a theory or idea first, why the other person was wrong, and why their version is the best version.
It struck me as being so empty.
A bunch of smart people bickering about who is smarter is pretty childish on its face, of course, not to mention it seems rather backwards to debate who’s legacy should be bigger. After all, we don’t usually decide our legacy do we?
Here’s the thing: the legacy you and I leave is of no more significance than the epitaph on our tombstone. For most of us, our everyday actions will be lost on the winds of time after a very short period of time. The humans who have managed to leave a lasting legacy — the Kings, the billionaires, and yes, the scientists — haven’t done so on their own. Everyone who is “someone” relied on others that came before them and blazed the trail or laid the foundation. Anybody who tells you that they’re successful on their own merit is either blind, a liar, or both.
Albert Einstein is dead. You’re not.
Abraham Lincoln is dead. You’re not.
Emily Dickinson is dead. You’re not.
You’re alive. You’re breathing right now. You have the ability and potential to create massive change in the world around you during your lifetime. Alexander the Great lost that ability long ago.
Walk around. Feel the dry, cold air of winter. Take a deep breath and taste that oxygen. These are all things that every famous, wealthy, and successful person who came before you once did but can do no longer. It’s your time now.
Focus on building on the foundation that others built. Focus on speaking into other people’s lives. Enjoy life in all of its pain, comfort, warmth, wretchedness, and loveliness. Make a difference in your small world.
When you’re feeling down, or like the world is working against you, or like you’ve lost all control, just remember that these are all things that Sir Isaac Newton once felt. But guess what? He’s dead now. His time had come and gone. His life is over. But you? You’re just getting started.
Someone, someday may decide that you should have a legacy in the history books. Your job is not to ensure that they get it right or write you a nice paragraph. None of that matters. Why? Because your story is not yet over. You’re still alive.